Chelsea’s 4th game in a week sees Sunderland visit the Bridge hoping to finally have on the pitch events discussed after their controversial appointment of Paolo Di Canio.
For Chelsea, Rafa Benitez’ squad rotation policy is likely to be evident after the busy fixture schedule. Although obviously a necessity, Chelsea can’t afford to field a side that may even stumble at the chance of taking what should be 3 easy points. Last Saturday’s loss at Southampton reiterated just how open the race for Champions League spots are and a season it is unthinkable.
Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill are both out with injuries so Ryan Bertrand looks set to continue at left back with the centre back pairing being made up of two of Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz and John Terry. The midfield trident will undoubtedly be rotated but Fernando Torres’ midweek goals may have just done enough for him to retain the lone striker role. In a game where the majority of the possession can be expected, Frank Lampard and Ramires could continue as the two holding midfielders as their deep runs from midfield may help against a Sunderland side that is likely to sit back. Although, it’s probably wise to assume that nothing’s easy to predict when Di Canio’s involved.
With 7 games to go the hiring of Di Canio seems very much a kill or cure move for Sunderland and their run of 3 points from possible 24 definitely puts them in the clichéd ‘sinking ship’ category. Di Canio has Wes Brown, Lee Catermole and Steven Fletcher unavailable and David Vaughan and Carlos Cuellar are both expected to undergo late fitness tests. A shock victory at the Bridge would be their first since January and certainly something that replace the headlines concerning Di Canio’s politics.
The last 16 ties have resulted in 15 Chelsea wins, the only loss coming in the 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in 2011. All signs point to a Chelsea victory but with Benitez seemingly focusing on the cups more than the league, a weakened team selection is a possibility that could prove costly against a side with a manager wanting to silence critics. However with Sunderland having no real goal threat you would expect the like of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata (if playing) to guide Chelsea through. My prediction, 2-0.